Last year this time, tight end was a bit of a question mark. Penn State was tasked with having to replace record-setting Mike Gesicki, and while there were numerous options, those options were quite unproven. Now just a year later, and things look much rosier for a tight end spot that could have an All-Big Ten candidate as its starter, and sports some unbelievable depth behind him.
After being a part of the tight end platoon for the first four games of last season, Pat Freiermuth eventually separated himself from the pack over the last nine games of the year, en route to a 26/368/8 freshman campaign that excited the masses in Happy Valley.
That excitement was for good reason — Freiermuth is everything one could want in a tight end. At 6-foot-5, 262 pounds, Freiermuth has elite size to go along with a strong frame. As a receiver, he displays soft hands and tremendous body control to make difficult catches in traffic. What separates Freiermuth from the “modern” day tight end? This dude can block.
There just aren’t many tight ends with the receiving and blocking chops that Freiermuth possesses. As Penn State fans saw (or I suppose didn’t see) with Mike Gesicki, having an adequate blocker at the position is a major difference maker. In Freiermuth, the Nittany Lions have that and then some.
Expectations are certainly high for Freiermuth in 2019, but there’s no reason to think a sophomore slump is on the horizon. He’ll be an even more integral part of the offense, and now with a full offseason under his belt, should take his game to another (i.e. All-Big Ten) level.
LET’S TALK ABOUT DEPTH BABY
Penn State would have every reason to feel good about tight end if it was just Freiermuth and then a bunch of nothing behind him. Fortunately though, that isn’t the case, as tight end might just be the deepest position on the roster.
First and foremost, there’s redshirt senior Nick Bowers. While Bowers has dealt with injuries throughout much of his career and hasn’t played a whole lot because of it, it seems (feverishly knocks on wood) that those injuries are now in the past. Bowers was seeing more and more time as the year went on last season, and should now settle right into that second tight end role.
Bowers doesn’t quite have the receiving capabilities of Freiermuth, but he’s actually a pretty solid athlete (yes that is a hyperlink to Bowers dunking over Tyler Shoop), and when you combine that with his blocking (which is, in a word, great), Penn State should be in a very good spot with Bowers as TE2.
If you don’t believe me, just ask James Franklin.
Franklin thinks Pat Freiermuth and Nick Bowers have the potential to become two of the country's best tight ends. "We could have a two-headed monster there."— Onward Sports (@OnwardStSports) April 3, 2019
Behind Bowers should be redshirt freshman Zack Kuntz, who slowly but surely is adding weight (236 pounds, currently) to his 6-foot-7 frame. While Kuntz likely still has a ways to go as a blocker, the potential is there for a role as a receiving tight end in certain situations. Bottom line, he’s just a fluid athlete with stupid length, and those types of players are usually useful in the footsball game.
Lastly, redshirt senior Jonathan Holland is still in the mix. While the path to playing time seems a little more daunting than it did in 2018, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a former starter waiting in the wings should something go awry.
Really good. This probably goes without saying given the youth at wide receiver and the depth at tight end, but two tight end sets (12 personnel, just a little football lingo, nbd) should be featured quite a bit in Ricky Rahne’s offense in 2019. Not expecting Bill O’Brien 2012 level of tight end utilization, but with Freiermuth, Bowers, and Kuntz, it just makes sense to make use of an obvious strength.